Aside from the Core Rulebook, if you purchase only one Cthulhutech book, you really have no excuse to pass up on Vade Mecum. This book is the pinnacle of the Cthulhutech line and the standard by which the rest of the books should hopefully follow. Vade Mecum is packed with good story concepts that finish fleshing out the setting, great player crunch for all manner of new character types as well as old ones and loads of new monsters and systems for the GM to implement. It even comes with a few outlines of adventures the GM can use as inspiration for some quick Cthulhutech games.
Disclosure: I received this product and others from Ed Healy of the Atomic Array as part of one of their big review projects. I am however an avid Cthulhutech gamer, so my opinion of the book (which I already owned anyway) is not influenced by this.
The first parts of the book tackle setting concepts hinted at in the Core Book but for which there wasn’t enough adequate space. The Ashcroft Foundation gets more properly fleshed out, with a look into their shady advisors within the one-world NEG government and the clinics that they run, giving you a sense of the power and prestige wielded by this entity. Then the game moves on to another previously hazy concept, the Xenomix children born from a union between a human and a nazzadi. The social, cultural and even mystical implications of these unions are discussed at length, and the Xenomixes are all made playable races.
My favorite portions talk about Parapsychics and more importantly (at least to me), the “Zone.” This is a massive wormhole in what used to be Las Vegas, Nevada. It is a slowly-expanding area of twisted dimension that materializes monsters and has increase the rate of psychic development in the NEG. Zoners and parapsychics are what they sound like – psychics with powerful abilities, discussed later on in the book. Finally the book discusses the Arcane Underground and its black market, as well as three government agencies of the NEG that parallel the FBI and CIA, but on a global scale.
For The Players
Parapsychic powers are explained in some detail. The system is much more manageable than magic powers are – it does not take hours or days for a Parapsychic to be able to do something cool. Like magic, there are multiple levels and strengths of parapsychic powers, with only a few available during standard character generation. Although some of the lower-end psychic powers seem relatively useless, there’s the option of being a Zoner Parapsychic. The price of admittance is being way more insane and volatile than anyone else in the game is at character generation, but Zoners pack power equal to their vast mental turmoil. If you like to gamble on your character, Zoner will make those gambles pay off hard – when they work.
Sorcerers get a bunch of new spells, and additional Tagers are added, including one new Exceptional Tager. It fires cancer bombs.
To me, the highlight of the crunch is all the new mecha. A few land mecha are added (including the new power overwhelming Chashmal Engel) but the best part is that the Aeon War is fully expanded below the depths of the sea. Brand new mecha for all sides are added with underwater combat specifically in mind. The Esoteric Order of Dagon gets a power boost with the Leviathan. Their mecha in the core book were sorely lacking in punch, but the Leviathan helps settle that. This in addition with the new monsters in the book make them as respectable a faction as the rest in the Aeon War.
There are a few optional rules, such as injuries and healing complications, but in my opinion the game is lethal enough as it is. However, the shining star of the optional rules are the Cascades. This is a system of combo attacks which reduces the penalty you would take for making multiple actions. There are a good amount of them and some guidelines for making your own, and they cover the spectrum of character types. Except mecha, unfortunately.
For The DM
Aside from the great new setting elements and the aforementioned injury optional rules, the GM can look forward to all manner of new horrors to spring on unsuspecting players. The Esoteric Order of Dagon looked almost humorous in the Core Rulebook, but with the addition of Vade Mecum they become one of the most terrifying sides. New monsters like the White Death (a massive shark that can deal some insane damage and swallow mecha) and Sea Serpent give the children of Dagon some much-needed oomph in their struggle to awaken Cthulhu. Ground-level games get new sorcerous beasts like the Liche (not exactly what it sounds like, trust me!) and new Dhohanoids to menace Tager players.
A nice big section gives tips on “playing styles” for the new factions introduced, such as the new government agencies. Topping off the book are a few adventure outlines using the new organizations and character types. Including one about a hardcore sex bar, with a rather large piece of artwork about said hardcore sex bar and its “wares.” Nothing pornographic.
There are a few niggling things about the book. For one, there are no cascades for mecha. You can probably adapt some on your own without much of a problem, but it would have been nice to see them. Realism be damned, I should be able to two-fist hyperedge blades to do an SNK combo with my Gladius.
Some of the new elements bring a level of power much higher than the Core rulebook’s – the Chashmal just toasts the rest of the mecha in damage output and tanking ability, Parapsychics can do their supernatural mojo much faster than Sorcerers can. Sure, Sorcerers can do a lot of useful things, but it takes them so long to perform their tricks that they feel like support NPCs in comparison, necessitating you fast-forward a day whenever the Sorcerer wants to do magic. A good Parapsychic just pops his collar and the fireworks can begin.
Overall though, this is a great book. It’s the best the Cthulhutech line has to offer apart from the Core Rulebook, and there’s no reason not to make this your second purchase.
Want to learn more about CthulhuTech? Read on…
- WildFire: CthulhuTech Quick-Start Rules
- Atomic Array: Episode 013: CthulhuTech RPG
- Mad Brew Labs: CthulhuTech: The Game That Almost Wasn’t
- Critical Hits: When Horror Meets Awesome: CthulhuTech
- Kore Dice: Interview with CthulhuTech’s Mike Vaillancourt
- Stargazer’s World: Review: CthulhuTech
- Stan!: The Stars Will Be Right
- Arcane Underground: The Saga of CthulhuTech (Updated)
- Atomic Array: Episode 040: CthulhuTech
- The Village Barbarian: Review: CthulhuTech Core Book
- Dice Monkey: Review: Vade Mecum
- Blog of a new RPGer: Review: Dark Passions
- Stargazer’s World: Review: Damnation View
- allgeektout: Review: Mortal Remains
- Creatively Anomalous: Review: Dark Passions